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Guide to booking a self arranged holiday to USA

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27.01.2002

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speaks for itself

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you have to come home

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Anyone who has read my Opinion on Las Vegas will undoubtedly already be aware of my fascination with America. My Husband and I have visited the country about 15 times over our 13 ½ years of marriage.

Our first trip was with Premier Holidays (honeymoon) costing over £1,500 each for two weeks.

I fully appreciate that this is quite a considerable sum of money and over the years we have learnt of ways to make the trip more cost effective. Last June we visited the Western USA for 3 weeks with our Son and it cost us under £3,000 (an extra week , an extra person and 12 years later) , the same cost as when we went on Honeymoon in 1998.

What I would like to do in this Opinion is share some of the "trick of the trade" that we have used and if any of you are able to save money on a trip to America then this has clearly been worthwhile.

TOURIST BOARDS

One of the first things to do is research where you wish to go , just so that I can speak from a position of knowledge , I will be referring to the Western side of America , California , Arizona and Nevada.

If you've ever tried obtaining information about a UK holiday resort , it can be like getting money out of the taxman. America appears all together different. Visit some of the major Search Engines and look under Tourist Information / Tourist Boards for the Town or State you are interested in. The vast majority have excellent web-sites which allow you to put in your name and address and they will send you relevant Information. I'm not just talking about little leaflets , the ones from San Diego , Grand Canyon and Arizona tourist boards were substantial packs (postage costing them many dollars) , including details about the Area , attractions , accommodation , Map and even vouchers / coupons in some instances.

California :- www.gocalif.com
Grand Canyon :- www.thecanyon.com
Arizona :- www.arizonatourism.com/index.html

I can also strongly recommend for background reading two very well known American Travel Books.

Frommers :- www.frommers.com (circa £12/£15 each)
Fodors :- www.fodors.com (circa £12/£15 each)

They may be State or City based Travel Books but are extremely detailed and from my experience very balanced with the assessments.

You will probably find them available via the likes of ;

Amazon :- www.amazon.co.uk


AIRLINE LINKS

Don't be duped into booking with one of the large brochures such as British Airways or Virgin , very colourful but prices are astronomical , hotels can be 2 , 3 or 4 times as much as if you book direct.

For booking the flight , you have two or three main options (two if you don't have enough Air Miles for a freebie flight)

1) Choose a fly-drive package from the likes of Getaway USA , Jetsave , Funway etc. Ask in your local travel agent for a specialist fly-drive provider to America. They will inevitably try and fob you off with British Airways or Virgin since profit margins for them are much higher with the big boys. Stick with it.

2) Second alternative and one we've used on the last 3 or 4 trips is flight-only ticket via a bucket-shop. Always make sure ABTA , IATA or ATOL bonded. The likes of ;

A) Airline Network :- www.netflights.com (used 3 times - all good)
B) Flightbookers :- www.ebookers.com (used 1 time - good tried again bad , perhaps unlucky)
C) Travelbag :- www.travelbag.com
D) Airtickets Direct :- www.airtickets.co.uk (used 2 times for Car Hire - good)
E) Bridge the World :- www.bridgetheworld.com

To name but a few. Look in the Saturday Daily Mail , they have loads of adverts in the travel section with phone numbers and web addresses. Ceefax gives you very similar information but with so many pages , sometimes you have to wait ages only to find you miss the relevant page by getting side tracked.


CAR HIRE

This all assumes you haven't taken a fly-drive package where it is already included.

N.B. If you do a fly-drive , try and make sure they don't use Dollar for the Cars. Absolutely nothing wrong with the Company or Cars it is just that they won't allow you to have you own Car Insurance and I will come onto this later.

For Car Hire , you can easily trawl through the individual web-sites for Alamo , Hertz , Avis , National etc. But I would again suggest you revisit the same sites you have looked at for your flights. Don't necessarily use the same Company , this doesn't guarantee a better deal. You will find that most will use Alamo which is great as they definitely let you use your own Car Insurance.

CAR INSURANCE

Now I am sure you have all heard that Car Insurance in America is a fortune. It is and more and more of it is becoming compulsory.

You've probably heard of Collision Damage Waiver (CDW or LDW) and Top-up Liability Insurance. CDW is basic Cover for between $40,000 and $100,000 of Cover , Top-up increases this to $1,000,000.

The cost of each of these can easily be $12/$15 per day I repeat for each of them per day. So for a three week Holiday (21 days) you could pay $252 / $315 for CDW and $252 / $315 for Top-up Liability Insurance. So in total , we bare talking of between $504 and $630 plus Sales Tax , State Tax , Airport Tax plus whatever other tax they have invented for that week. At £1 : $1.40 this brings the cost of the Insurance to about £360 / £450 before Tax. Why so much ? Well it is simply because it doesn't really discriminate between UK drivers that are usually very safe and the likes of far east Drivers who can find driving in America very difficult.

I have a solution , it works , we have used it for many a year and Alamo definitely recognise this as valid Insurance.

A company called Lambert Fenchurch UK Group Ltd and underwritten by Lloyds of London. Also involved is Mercury International Assistance which is part of the massive Swire Group (owners of Cathay Pacific). Policy is ultimately underwritten in America.

CDW for California is £4.50 per day , Rest of USA £5.00 per day (as at 12/2000 last time I used them)

Top Up Insurance is £4.25 per day for first 21 days and £4.00 per day thereafter (drivers aged 25-75) - (again as at 12/2000 last time I used them)

Therefore , this works out at £8.75 per day if cover starts in California , £9.25 per day in other states. A three week holiday costs £183.75 / £194.25 with no taxes on the Insurance compared to the earlier figure of £360 / £450 plus tax. I am sure you will agree , a massive saving.

HOLIDAY INSURANCE

One of the favourite profit making schemes used by Travel Agents. A two or three week Holiday to America for a family of four and you need a re-mortgage to buy the Holiday Insurance.

Please please use the likes of ;

Asda Annual Family Cover
Sainsbury Annual Family Cover
Direct Travel Insurance :- www.direct-travel.co.uk (Underwritten by CGNU)

Alternatively , check with your Bank to see if it is included as part of your Credit Card Package (Advantage Premier with NatWest provides full blown free holiday insurance providing you pay for the Holiday using your Premier Card). I am sure the other Bank's offer similar packages to their customers.

HOTELS

This is where I think it gets very easy. America has a plethora of Hotel Chains , all or nearly all offering on-line booking. Vast majority will take your Credit Card details to reserve the room but won't debit you unless you use the room or fail to cancel within 24/48 hours of arrival.

I will bullet point them below with their web-site address and my comment whether they are Cheap / Mid-Price or Expensive. You will find prices vary considerably from City to City dependant upon time of year. For example Phoenix is relatively Cheap in the Summer as it rarely gets below 100 degrees but in Autumn it can be expensive as climate is pleasant and Californian's visit at weekends. Conversely , Anaheim (Disneyland area) is very Expensive in Summer but relatively cheap out of season. As such , my comments on the respective chains is more in relation to each other rather than a general price you may pay.

Embassy Suites :- www.embassy-suites.com (Expensive but nice)
Fairfield Inn :- www.fairfieldinn.com (Good value - owned by Marriottt)
Hampton Inn :- www.hampton-inn.com (Good value)
Holiday Inn :- www.holiday-inn.com (Cheap to Expensive)
Choice Hotels :- www.choicehotels.com (Cheap to Mid-Price , 5 or 6 different chains to choose from)
Howard Johnson :- www.hojo.inn (Cheap)
Sherarton :- www.sheraton.com (Expensive - you probably guessed that one)
Vagabond :- www.vagabondinns.com (Cheap)
Motel 6 :- www.motel6.com (Cheap)
Super 8 :- ww.super8motels.com (Cheap)
Ramada :- www.ramada.com (Cheap to Expensive)
Doubletree :- www.doubletreehotels.com (Expensive)

Obviously , this is not an exhaustive list but I am sure it will provide you with a useful starting point.

SUMMARY

I have tried to provide a degree of structure to this Opinion with regards the order that you will probably find it helpful to follow.
This doesn't guarantee to save you thousands of pounds but from our experience it certainly saves us about £500 to £750 on a good standard 3 week holiday compared to the brochure price for an equivalent Package. The other two massive positives in our opinion is the added flexibility it provides (you can swap and change your route / plans during the Holiday) and probably the most important part of all is the self-satisfaction you get in organising your own holiday.

I hope you find this Opinion helpful , should you require some specific advice on Hotels in Las Vegas , please see my Opinion in that section (Premier Opinion).

Good luck !!

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Comments about this review »

sandrabarber 27.01.2002 19:56

Excellent op - really interesting. Cheers.

Dave39 27.01.2002 19:21

We went to Anaheim, california then onto Vegas in October. We flew American Airlines, hired a car for one week with full insurance, then upgraded to a suite. Then flew off to vegas and stayed at the four star Harrahs, and this cost us £999 each, not too bad eh? My mate though, found somewhere on the net that cost him half that price. I will find out what.

wiggglypufff 27.01.2002 19:03

Hi! I see you haven't written on Ciao for a while so welcome back. Are you the hubby/wife writers from Dooyoo (richardandkaye)? You may want to mention it on your profile as it will confuse members seeing ops written one time from a female, and then a male. (Also, we don't have premier opinions here on Ciao so you may want to remove that from the op). Anyway, welcome back and enjoy! Karen :O)

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